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Staff Picks: Music

Changing Places

I just pulled off of the shelves the album Changing Places by The Tord Gustavsen Trio on a whim, or at least an informed whim, given it was released on the respected ECM label. The jazz trio consists of Gustavsen on piano, a double bass and drums. There's a nocturnal atmosphere throughout the album, one in which the piano seductively sets the mood with sly gestures, sometimes spry and buoyant, at other moments, reserved and lyrical. I had no previous knowledge of the Norwegian's work but that's one of the perks of browsing the shelves and being open to trying something new.

Because of Billie

Canadian singer and Juno Award winner Molly Johnson is not the first to tackle the legacy of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday with a collection of reinterpretations but her new album offers listeners an excellent introduction to her warm, agreeable renditions of standards such as God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit, Lady Sings the Blues, and You’ve Changed. Moving back and forth from the upbeat and jaunty to the solemn and heartbreaking, Johnson’s affecting respect for Holiday’s genius and understanding of her difficult life can be best summed up with this from the liner notes: For years people have said to me, “You are so much like Billie Holiday”, and my answer has been, “No, I am because of Billie.”

Anouar Brahem

Cruising around in Hoopla's jazz offerings can lead to satisfying discoveries. On a whim, I checked out Anouar Brahem's album Le Pas Du Chat Noir having never heard of his music before. Wow, what great stuff. A mix of styles and cultural traditions (European folk, North African, American Jazz, etc.) can be heard throughout Brahem's spare but beautiful compositions.

The Year in Jazz

NPR's end of the year survey of the best jazz recordings of 2015 is a great place to start in finding out what you may have missed.

Sinatra: The Radio Years

One of the truly legendary voices of the 20th century came from Hoboken, New Jersey. Born in 1915, his name was Frank Sinatra, aka, The Chairman of the Board, America's first pop culture phenomena. From the mid 1930’s until his death in 1998, Sinatra’s musical catalog is a remarkable achievement, having sung wartime torch songs, swinging jazz standards, romantic laments, and bossa nova. The newest batch of songs to be released posthumously is a collection of his radio performances called Sinatra: A Voice on Air (1935-1955). Available now on Freegal for download and streaming, Sinatra’s inimitable voice has never known a past its sell date.

A Love Supreme Turns 50

Saxophonist John Coltrane’s legendary composition A Love Supreme was released 50 years ago. By 1965, Coltrane’s profound experimentation with improvisation and the increasing influence of Eastern and Middle Eastern spirituality resulted in one of his most memorable works, a piece of jazz that melds together the hard bop of the late 1950’s with the daring, anarchic dissonance of his late 1960’s free jazz. The entire song can be found on the The Classic Quartet: Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings along with many other of Trane's groundbreaking catalog. 

Autumn Leaves

Soon, many of us will pick up our rakes and blowers so as to clear away the descending leaves from our lawn. I also find that I tend to listen to more jazz when the weather begins to cool so it got me thinking about the classic song Autumn Leaves, a jazz standard that has been performed by hundreds of musicians over the years. It's a great song that evokes the kind of nostalgic longing that seems to fit perfectly with the season for donuts, apple cider and the turning of the leaves. Here's a version from pianist Keith Jarret:  A more recent version from actress Emmy Rossum:  One of my favorites by the great French singer Edith Piaf:

Stream or Download via Freegal

Freegal is your access to free downloaded music from the Sony Music catalog. A streaming option has now been added to their catalog. Download 5 of your favorite songs each week or listen to a full album by streaming (5 hours/week). Visit our Download page on the KPL site for more information and helpful links to our other digital services.

One of the most buzzed about jazz albums of the year is Miles Davis at Newport: 1955-1975, the Bootleg Series Volume 4. Our compact disc copy will be here soon but if you don't want to wait, stream this extraordinary portrait of one of jazz's most important innovators which includes performances with legendary collaborators John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk and Julien "Cannonball" Adderley. 

Favorite Albums of 2015 So Far

My co-worker Kevin posted his favorite music of the year several weeks back and now I'm following up with my own. I know of a certain band called Beach House whose newest release will likely end up on my list come 2016 but for now, here goes:

Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Bryan Ferry, Avonmore
Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
The Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird Is Home
Leon Bridges, Coming Home
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Miles Davis, Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4
Tame Impala, Currents
Jessica Pratt, On Your Own, Love Again
Ariel Pink, Pom Pom
Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2

Tony and Bill

Sometimes I'll judge an album by its cover. I know I shouldn't but when terrible hairdos, wide ties and 1970's polyester are involved, c'mon, can it really be worth listening to? Well, look beyond the corny cover photograph and you'll find a lot to like about this album which pairs two musical heavy weights together as they make their way through sorrowful laments and heart-felt longing. This album cobbles together two previous titles, The Tony Bennett and Bill Evans Album (1975) and 1977's Together Again. Bennett, at the time of the recordings, was not considered a "jazz singer" as much as troubadour of Broadway tunes and American Songbook Standards and these recordings certainly suggest that his enthusiasm for jazz was greater than his skill set. He did however correctly choose to marry his vocal strengths with a talented piano player who can more than hold his own when Bennett takes a breather from the mic. The results are excellent and jazz listeners will eat up this classic if they haven't heard it already.